ST. JOHN 2007:

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 4, 2007

Parish president sees economic growth from 2006 continuing upward

Marathon expansion, Community Center, Cargill just a few of past year highlights


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE – There is one direction St. John Parish President Nickie Monica sees the parish going in 2007-straight up.

Monica looked back at 2006 and noted a handful of positive things that happened in St. John Parish.

But for all the successes in the year, he believes 2007 will be even better for the parish, especially in terms of economic growth.

&#8220By far, 2006 was the best year we have had in St. John since I took office,” Monica said, now entering the final year of eight years as the parish president. &#8220We had some growth related to Hurricane Katrina, but I think you can look at a lot of other things that were already in the hopper that have come along simply from the fact that we have made this a business friendly environment.”

Monica is entering the final year of his second, four-year term. He cannot run again due to term limits, but has announced plans to run for the Louisiana House of Representatives seat to be vacated by Bobby Faucheaux.

As he looked back on his previous seven years in office, Monica said he feels like he has achieved many of the goals he set out to do.

&#8220When I came into office, I had a vision for the parish to move it forward to become more business friendly,” he said. &#8220And I think we have done that here. You can look at many of the things that have happened, especially in the past year, and see that St. John is really growing rapidly and should continue to do so.”

Monica remembers coming into office and noting that there was not any voice mail on the phones, and only one computer in the administrative building.

&#8220One of the first things I did was to use a $75,000 grant from Danny Becnel to put computers here, hook up to the Internet, and put in voice mail,” he said.

In the past year, Monica pointed to the opening of the St. John Community Center, the new Veterans Home being constructed, a new Senior Center that was opened, approval to construct a National Guard center here, and plans for a $1.3 million West Bank recreation facility.

Additionally, he said that an announcement of major business plans for growth will only be a positive thing for the parish.

&#8220Marathon Refinery will begin a $3.2 billion expansion plan, and Cargill announced plans to build a sugar refinery here. Also, we had Baumer Foods relocate here along with several other businesses,” he explained. &#8220I don’t think that would have happened if St. John didn’t offer a business friendly environment.”

2006 did appear to be a big year for St. John with many positive developments. Some of the major success stories were:

-Marathon Petrolum announces $3.2 billion expansion plan, to increase production from 245,000 barrels of oil per day to 425,000 barrels of oil per day. Construction should begin in early 2007, creating 2,000 to 4,000 construction-related jobs. When completed, an additional 300 jobs should be created.

-Cargill announced plans to build a sugar refinery on its River Road site, spending close to $100 million to do so. Hundreds of construction jobs will be created, then 150 permanent positions will be added.

-DuPont began a $50 million expansion as it consolidates its production of its Neoprene brand of synthetic rubber. New technology will allow the 35 year old plant to reduce the facility’s emissions by 10 percent. Construction should be complete by mid-2007.

-Baumer Foods, known for making Crystal Hot Sauce, moved a business that had been in New Orleans for 83 years to a St. John plant in Reserve. The company was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina and decided to relocate, picking St. John over several other locations. The company will create approximately 200 new jobs.

-NATCO, a meat processing company, moves its third generation family-owner business to St. John, bringing 70 jobs here with it.

-The Southeast Louisiana War Veterans Home is nearing completion and is scheduled to be finished by April. Employing 175 people and having a local economic impact of $7 million a year, the building was built on 26 acres of land near Regala Park. The $20 million, 93,000 square foot facility will also have an outpatient clinic that will employ 40 more professionals.

-A $15 million Army National Guard Readiness Center will be constructed near the St. John Airport by Aegis Construction. The parish offered land for the site for a $1 a year lease, with construction to take about 18 months and begin this year.

-Homebuilding set a record for the most permits ever, near 300 for 2006 as the population continued to grow in St. John.

-A new 9,500 square foot Senior Citizen Center was opened just off Airline Highway near Regala Park, replacing a longtime, cramped facility next to the Percy Hebert Building in LaPlace. The new facility has offices, a main hall and stage, kitchen, conference room, library and exercise room.

-The St. John Community Center opened in 2006 and has signed a lease with a major motion picture company to use much of the 31,000 square feet in the building. The lease brings in $15,000 a month, which should cover most of the maintenance costs for the building.

-The much-awaited new water treatment facility at the Ruddock site should be completed in May of 2007, improving the water for the LaPlace area. A decision was finally made by the Parish Council to build a new sewer treatment plant in Reserve, which should provide needed capacity for years to come and alleviate a growing problem to handle the growth of new homes in the area.

&#8220I think we have had manageable growth here for the years I’ve been in office, and I think we have managed it well,” Monica added. &#8220Timing is everything, and I think we’ve handled opportunities well when they came. Home Depot was a good example. When they surveyed the area, they were uncertain if we could support their store, but we convinced them to come here, and you can now see they are doing great.

&#8220You can see we are having a steady addition of new restaurants, and there are other possibilities in the works,” Monica said.

On the negative side, Monica admitted that approval of the new sewer system in St. John has taken far longer than he wanted.

The issue had been haggled over for years between Monica and the Parish Council, but it was only in recent months when a decision was finally made to pick the site in Reserve for the new plant.

&#8220Even though that took longer than I would have liked, I don’t believe we have a sewer crisis here as some people have suggested,” he said. &#8220We are concerned about our situation, but I think we are addressing it in plenty of time. Right now we have plenty of capacity for the area.”

Monica also said he had a personal situation that was difficult for him in the past year when his wife had an illness that required surgery, something that led to changing his mind about running for Congress.

&#8220I was all set to run for Congress, but when Dawn got sick, that all changed,” he said. &#8220This job is very tough on a family for the hours I have to be gone, and once she got sick, I knew I couldn’t take a job in Congress, which would make me be gone all week. But I’m not saying that I won’t try for that down the road, after I run for the Louisiana House of Representatives this year.”

Looking back at the response for St. John a year after Hurricane Katrina, Monica said he still is amazed at how much he saw people here helping others.

&#8220I actually get emotional when I think about how many situations we saw where St. John residents did so much to help others,” he said. &#8220I was humbled when I saw people here washing clothes for those assisting others. Every chance I get, I praise the residents here since they have always done so much for others.”

As for the future, Monica believes the water and sewer situations are under control and getting taken care of, but he would now like to see some help for the traffic problems here. He has been working with the state to get approval for an I-10 interchange at Reserve, and also for a service road between the Highway 51 exit and the Belle Terre exit on I-10.

&#8220The service road would do a lot to help rush hour traffic on Airline,” he explained. &#8220But even that will take years to get funding for it.”

And a last question from some about whether St. John will get a major mall is something that Monica didn’t claim to be able to answer.

&#8220The market has always driven the growth here and I think that will continue to happen,” he said. &#8220I know a lot of people would like a mall here, but that will happen when the market is right to support it.”